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Something new

I have been talking to a handful of people about a new way to get a positive, informed discussion about the island’s future going. It will not be the new YACKon.com but something even cooler. If you want to stay in the loop, send me an email at grant@sand.agency and I will let you know when it launches. –Grant Sanders

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Scariest darned article of town meeting? Article 55.

Article 55 is a sleeper of a zoning bylaw change. Few are paying attention. A lot of people are more concerned with the school article (12) or the Richmond Development (53) or the hospital rezoning (70). But for me, one of the most critical articles on the warrant is 55. On face value, it appears innocuous. Just a few changes to zoning here and there. A few unconnected bit and pieces going from LUG-2 (two acre zoning) to LUG 1 (One acre zoning) and when you look at it in the map supplied with the warrant (above), it doesn’t even look like that much land. It’s a housekeeping article, right?

Wrong.

Think about what this article does. It takes a few strategically placed neighborhoods and upzones them. And once that happens, it opens the door to a raft of changes at future town meetings. All of the contiguous LUG-2 sections could then more easily be converted to LUG-1. And it’s a massive amount of potential increased density.

It’s kind of like when Germany invaded Poland. It met little resistance. After that, all of western Europe was at their doorstep. I sure hope that LUG-1 is not allowed to invade Poland at town meeting this year. Scary.

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Why Upzoning Is Downright Wrong.

This is a very tenuous time for Nantucket. In the 20 years I have been going to town meeting, I have never seen so many articles sponsored by the Planning Board that involve the active upzoning of various areas of the island.

For those people who don’t eat, breathe and sleep the zoning code, upzoning is the process of changing the zoning of a given area to make it more dense, to allow people to subdivide their property, and to build more houses. It requires a vote at town meeting.

One reason that this is a problem: despite the pains associated with too many people on the island, the Planning Board apparently thinks that upzoning and increased density is the solution. Huh?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Just as the solution to having a big, old, ugly wart on your face is not to add more warts. The solution to overcrowding is not to add more people.

Still, at town meeting, you are going to hear a lot of people stand up and say they want to subdivide so their kids can live on the island, or they need to subdivide in order to afford to stay, or they want to match the density of other areas of the island. But the truth of the matter is this: Upzoning only serves to enrich a handful of people at the expense of the rest of us. And the expense is getting rather high. Let’s look into that more carefully.

We all pay.

You may think that the taxes a new homeowner pays actually pays for the financial load that home places on the island, but in many cases, the entire tax base carries some of the burden. Take sewers for example. If you add a few dozen homes to the sewer system, they all pay a connection fee. But this only pays for the cost of the additional infrastructure and labor to connect them. It does not take into consideration the effect more homes have on the expected life cycle of our new sewer plant — a plant that cost over $100 million to implement and which we have only begun to pay for. In addition, every new home on the island sparks the need for an incremental increase in town services. Fire, police, teachers, sanitation, roads, and more. To date, no one has done a comprehensive study to show how much of a financial load a singe family dwelling places on the town, likely because they don’t really want to know the answer. It’s simply easier to increase fees and cut services than to do the necessary planning.

Our quality of life suffers.

Some people, like my wife and her siblings, have lived here all their lives and have always known what a special place Nantucket is. And some of us moved here later in life, because we fell in love with the simplicity and beauty here. But life on Nantucket has gradually gotten far less simple and beautiful. We’ve seen a massive amount of development, a doubling of the number of banks here, more rotaries, a larger supermarket, a larger police station, more traffic and now, the need for a larger school. But the quality of life issues go far beyond the longer lines and overcrowding: we’ve seen a marked increase in violent crime as well.

If you were to ask our police chief, Bill Pittman, what the single biggest factor leading to crime is, he’ll tell you: it’s population density. More people equals more crime. More rapes, beatings and murders. And less safety for all of us. All you have to do is read a copy of the I&M or log into Facebook to see that we are living that nightmare scenario right now. How can adding more homes to Nantucket help this situation? The fact is, it can only make it worse.

Bad for the environment.

Want to know the environmental impact a home has on the island? Ask a scallop. As the number of homes has risen on the island, the number of bushels of scallops our fisherman are able to catch has plummeted because of a marked decline in water quality. In the 70s, it was not uncommon to see a 40,000-80,000 bushel season. These days, we are fortunate to see a fraction of that. In addition, new homes with septic systems place our sole-source aquifer in jeopardy, and contribute to a devastating decline in water quality in the island’s ponds. On top of that, more homes will push us closer and closer to a third electric cable to the island. And new homes (and the 2+ cars that comes with each one) contribute to increases in noise, light and air pollution.

The problem is clear. What’s the solution?

Obviously, the island has “issues.” So how do we solve the problem of affordability and quality of life without upzoning? Unfortunately, there are no instant cures. But there are some incremental things we can do. Including the following:

• Encourage the town to use some of its land within the sewer districts and on public transportation for affordable housing to make it possible to attract and keep great teachers, police, fire and other town-service professionals.
• Provide tax incentives to the private commercial sector for every unit of housing they provide for their own employees.
• Provide tax incentives and benefits for individuals who rent their second dwellings at affordable rates to year-round residents to reduce the incentive to rent seasonably and contribute to the Nantucket shuffle.
• Strictly enforce the health codes to keep the occupancy of each home within the law and reduce the number of under-the-table cash rentals.
• Develop a workable plan for alternative temporary housing like tiny homes that are not permanent structures and have a minimal impact on the environment.
• Run public transportation year-round and provide incentives for families to reduce the number of vehicles they have on island, or for those who use alternative transport like bicycles or mopeds.
• Encourage the town to stop facilitating growth and start providing incentives and plans for zero growth.
• Encourage the town to offer early retirement to anyone over 50 in order to hire more police, fire and other services people, and offer more services for the same amount of tax money. This will improve public safety and quality of life with little change in cost.
• Encourage the town to create a technology infrastructure to allow for the growth of high paying, white-collar service jobs instead of the building trades, such as technology, financial services, consulting and other service providers.
• Introduce legislature at the state level to expand the current Land Bank Act and create the Nantucket Land and Housing Bank, in order to maintain open space while growing the available stock of forever-affordable housing on the island by 20+ units each year.
• Take dramatic and decisive steps to improve quality of life for everyone here.

Nantucket, we just can’t build our way out of our problems. There are only so many times we can slice this pie before all we have is a big, crumbly mess. Let’s not go there. Please vote “no” on upzoning articles 48, 53, 54, 55, 56, and 62 at Annual Town Meeting, April 6-8. Share a link to this page if you agree.

watch your step

Why I will vote “yes” for a new school on Article 12. But I won’t like it.

The overcrowding in Nantucket Public Schools is not a problem. It’s a symptom. A symptom of our desire, as a community, to build and make money. Greed, basically. That’s right, I said it. The schools are a symptom of our greed. And we saw it coming.

Let me explain. 20 years ago, it was no secret on Nantucket that we had a problem with building. We were growing too fast and our growth was not, as economists like to say, sustainable. A lot of people in the community got together and wrote the comprehensive plan. Planning Director, John Pagini counted houses and lots and sewer hook-ups on the island to see just how many people we could accommodate. Sustainable Nantucket sprang up as a hard-hitting political organization designed to foster leadership and shine a light on the leading economic and social indicators that were making the island less livable. A cap on the number of building permits what we would allow each year was passed at town meeting. And, for a while, it looked like we might just have a solution to the breakneck growth that was plaguing our island.

And then the wheels fell off the wagon. The economy sagged. John Pagini left the NP&EDC and was replaced by Andrew Vorce. The comprehensive plan got modified and turned into a Master Plan, which has been twisted and morphed into a blueprint for growth as opposed to a way to stave it off. Sustainable Nantucket found that the politics were no longer sustainable, and after Executive Director, Christine Silverstein left Sustainable, the organization voluntarily had its teeth pulled and turned into a feel-good green group with no desire to poke at the hornets nest of island politics because, I am told, it’s hard to raise money doing that (money, again). Builders, concerned with making more money, crowded town meeting, some of whom have never been to ATM before or since, and repealed the building cap.

The result? Now, instead of leadership that wants to manage growth, we have a collection of town fathers and mothers who embrace it and bend over backwards to accommodate it. The Planning Board lost a progressive champion in Alvin Toppy Topham in 2007 and became “the permitting board” in a lot of people’s eyes. The board of selectmen is so powerless that we have the fewest candidates for the office in three decades. And developers are looking to leverage the town meeting process to build 60 homes where fewer than 20 ought to be.

And, as I mentioned, we need a new school. Why do we need a new school? Because instead of managing the number of bedrooms and cars the island could safely and sanely carry, and the number of homes we are willing to allow, we have just opened the floodgates. And over the past 20 years, lots of people have come here to build those houses and raise a family and have kids. And those kids deserve a good education. It’s our obligation to make it happen.

But I still don’t like it. I don’t like the fact that we had an opportunity to manage this process and we failed. Miserably.

In addition, there are several zoning article changes that seek to down-zone several year-round neighborhoods (down-zoning is the act of making the maximum size lots in a district smaller to allow more homes to be built there). This is just a bad idea. See, we are about to spend $46 Million on a new school, but if we allow all of these neighborhoods to down-zone, we will be able to accommodate more and more people and those people will have children and the school will need to grow even more. In short, if we say yes to down-zoning now, we will be called upon to say yes to a larger school in 20 more years.

Hey, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy. I believe that anyone should be allowed to do what he or she wants to do as long as it does not harm others. But making it possible for more and more people to live here (and for developers to make a massive pile of money) is doing damage to others in this community. Older people for whom tax increases are extremely difficult on a fixed income. People who came to Nantucket to get away from the crowds now find themselves fighting them at every new roundabout, at the expanded post office, in line at the larger police station and jockeying for check-out space at the soon-to-be-opened larger Stop and Shop. In 20 years we have seen a doubling of banks. A fight over parking spaces between the Brewery and Bartlett’s farm. A 50% increase in roundabouts with more planned. A huge increase in fast ferry service. A scallop fishery that has nose-dived thanks to an increased number of homes with emerald-green fertilized lawns around the harbor. And a sizeable bump in the trash we find on roadsides and beaches (I know because I help clean up as part of the Nantucket Clean Team during the spring, summer and fall.)

All because we are greedy.

So, at this town meeting, I do, begrudgingly, hope we treat the symptom of our growth and fund a new school. But, at the same time, I hope we treat the disease and say “no” to all new growth initiatives.

Because the patient is not doing so good. In case you weren’t paying attention.

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Nantucket Music Festival Line-Up Announced

The Nantucket Music Festival (August 2-3), has booked some pretty good acts that you may actually want to go hear play. The line-up includes Grammy Winner Bruce Hornsby, alt-rock darlings Guster, roots reggae fave Steel Pulse, party band frontman Donovan Frankenreiter and a few others of note — Lucas Nelson & POTR, Ayla Brown, Ben Taylor, Entrain, and Freddy Clarke. You can get all of the details at http://nantucketmusicfestival.com

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Nantucket Town Meeting Snarky Recap.

Ah, it’s Spring on Nantucket (or a reasonable facsimile) and that means Town Meeting has come and gone. Here’s a re-cap of the action on Saturday, April 5 at the Mary Walker Pendelton Auditorium.

There was a short discussion on Article 10 concerning the purchase of new trash cans. Some of which were those newfangled solar-powered compacting trash cans. Yes, I know they are not in keeping with our 17th century whaling village look and feel, but let’s face it, when trash cans overflow, neither is the trash that spills out over our streets. The objection to new trash cans was voted down.

The Community preservation act funding was called into question (article 30) when a concerned citizen brought up the fact that a church (gasp) was getting money from the town to make it’s sidewalks and walkways more accessible. Also, someone called into question the use of CPC funds to help the Land Council keep 94 acres of FAA land open and wild. Both objections made moot by votes against them.

Article 33 was called which asked town meeting to affirm that 30% of our room occupancy tax goes to Visitors services. Town meeting said yes. But it’s really up to the town’s administration to decide and the vote was non-binding. Good luck with that Visitors’ Services. Some good quotes in this debate, however, including a woman who underscored the importance of spending funds to “lock up tourists when they’re too drunk to find their cars.” Reality is often funnier than fiction.

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Article 34 was called but the town did not vote to buy the Eagan properties abutting dead horse valley. Please build something nice there, developers. Thanks for playing.

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Article 48 and 47 came up for discussion. This was the measure to change zoning and allow big-box retail stores on old south road. The developer, seeing the writing on the wall decided to try to pull the article in hopes of getting more public support for the Fall or next ATM (why am I seeing a snowball melting in hell in my mind’s eye?), but Adam Reed, selectman candidate tried to pull a fast one and get them banned from town meeting for two years. His ploy was so ham-fisted that even Linda Williams, the grand dame of ATM grand-standing saw it as grand-standing and said so, eliciting irony-fueled tittering throughout the hall. Mr. Reed’s motion was voted down and the electorate ultimately decided to take no action. So the dream of a suburban big-box retail play land on Old South Road is still alive (albeit barely given the fact that even the motion to postpone indefinitely did not even lose by 2/3rds — too many peeps just don’t like this idea — including this writer).

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Article 75 (a parking amendment) was called but quickly passed by unanimous voice vote.

At lunch I had a nice chat with two selectmen and a former selectman. The veggie chili was excellent.

After lunch we debated article 77, which asked that the town warrant be printed in plain English. Selectman Bob DeCosta got up and said something stupid about how “convey” and “sell” were the same thing and if you don’t know that maybe it’s time to learn, which was quickly and only slightly sarcastically corrected by former Selectman Michael Kopko and tweeted by Jason Gaziadei. Good times. In the end, Plain English did not win out.

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After a couple of called articles that resulted in no changes to the basic fabric of the universe we came to Article 80, which sought to make the Town Manager an elected position. The. Stupidest. Idea. Ever. I got up and said so. As did others. The word “odious” was used. The article failed with only a couple of people saying aye. Way in the back. Thanks for trying, guys.

Article 87 was passed. It sought to change the make-up of the HDC from an elected board to a partially elected and partially appointed board. A good compromise? We shall see. Article 88, which sought to make the HDC completely appointed was quickly squashed by the voters.

Article 90, after much wrangling and re-writes behind the scenes was approved by voters. It asked the Selectmen to look into allowing new town employees to have a choice of retirement plans, which could help reduce the burden of unfunded liabilities in the area of healthcare and pensions. I think most of it went over the ovters heads, but they voted for it anyway, once the verbiage was made simple and understandable. Nice.

A few articles in the 90s were called but technical amendments were allowed by the voters and passed easily with little debate.

The last real discussion of the day centered around keeping a few lots on town land just off of Fairgrounds Road as affordable lots. Susan Bennett-Witte proposed an excellent amendment to article 101 and the voters saw wisdom in it after a few people spoke. People with hyphenated names are often smarter than the average person. It’s a scientific fact.

Article 103 (land acquisition in Madaket) was called but no one really wanted to debate it after some technical amendments were made, the Planning Board’s recommendation was affirmed by he voters.

And that was it. Seven hours. Governtainment at its best.

If you really want to get the sense of the meeting, check out the hashtag #ACKatm2014 on twitter. It’s a hoot.

Yack On.

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Preview: The Vandal by White Heron Theatre Company

It was one of the top five most beautiful days of 2013. A killer June day on Nantucket. And under normal circumstances, I would have been outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and perhaps even taking an early summer swim. But instead, I went to see a reading of a new play, the Vandal. And I was glad I did. The Vandal has three characters. A young man, a woman and an older man. It’s a simple play due to its sparse set needs. But its text and characters are anything but simple. It builds, layer upon layer of intrigue and untruths, until all of the untruths reveal the real truth about these three people. I don’t want to spoil it. I just want to say, “Go.” See it. Enjoy it. The Vandal is playing this weekend in the main Dreamland Theater. I will be coming back to the island early on Friday to see the show and hang out with the cast afterwards. Please join me!

Show times:
Preview Thursday 3/27 7:30 pm
Opening Friday 3/28 7:30 pm
Performances Saturday 3/29 7:30
and Sunday 3/30 6:00
Tickets:
Preview $20.00
Friday, Saturday, Sunday $25.00
$5.00 discount to Dreamland and Arts Council Members!

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Does Nantucket need to promote itself better?

Here’s a video promotion for Prince Edward Island. It sounds like a great place. And it made me wonder, does Nantucket need to do a better job of positioning itself? I don’t think we want to be known as the island of drunk frat boys peeing in the bushes any more. Maybe it’s time to shout about Nantucket’s positive aspects from the rooftops? Anyone from the Chamber want to comment?

 

 

Downtown Nantucket, from the air

The YACK Manifesto.

A lot has been written about “The Tragedy of the Commons.” About how our shared resources can be squandered and depleted if we all take full advantage of them. And while Nantucket does not have a literal “Common” like so many other New England towns do, in many ways, the entire island is a Common. The oceans. The beaches. Open spaces. Our streets and historic buildings. They belong to all of us as a community. Year-round and seasonal people alike.

Understanding that, YACK is about ownership. About taking ownership of our community. Ownership of the issues and problems we all face. YACK is about being our brother’s keeper. About caring about one another.

YACK is also about honesty. It’s about being honest with ourselves and honest with our community. It’s about having an open discussion. It’s about sharing the way we feel, what we think and our vision for where the community should be going. YACK is not about putdowns or gotchas or one-ups. YACK is about coming to consensus and sharing disparate points of view. Our goal, our driving force, our passion, will be about helping the community understand itself better. About providing a place where people can come together and understand each other. That’s the goal of this website and what makes us tick. If you’re in, we are, too. With both feet.

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Send your fave sunsets

Yeah, that pic was taken from the boat leaving the island. Red sky at night. Send your favorite sunset pic to YACK and I’ll add it to the gallery. the email is host@yackon.com, or you can send me a link to your image online if it’s already uploaded somewhere. Thanks. G.